Dependably Durable (Weekly Writing Challenge)

(If you don’t make a habit out of checking The Daily Post, you really should.  They help with my writing more times than I care to admit.  This week is no different.)

O Day of days when we can read! The reader and the book, either without the other is naught.“ –Ralph Waldo Emerson


Book Review The Fifth AssassinMiranda pulled a grocery bag out from under her kitchen sink.  She laid it on the table next to her trusty scissors, masking tape, and her crisp new copy of Brad Meltzer’s The Fifth Assassin.  She had a regiment that each new book went through after it arrived at her doorstop.  The procedure had worked every previous time and she was not about to take chances now.

With a few quick folds, confident cuts, and strategically placed pieces of tape, the stalwart and robust construction paper was ready for its new inhabitant.  Miranda smiled and hummed to herself as she made the last few adjustments and then placed her new book in the waiting embrace of the sturdy book cover.  The last pieces of tape were put on, but Miranda made sure that they never so much as grazed the new book itself.  She moved the paper book jacket from where she had relocated it to the bookshelf. She tittered and tsk-ed at the ornamentation.  Such decorations were for display, not for travel.

Miranda smiled at the paper-clad book that sat on the table in front of her.  She cleared off the errant lengths and scraps cast off from the brown bag and let them fall slowly into the recycling bin.  She had gotten what she wanted from the former grocery bag.   After she meticulously put the scissors back in their drawer and the tape back on the shelf, all that remained was her prize.  She smiled at the anticipation of tearing through the new suspense novel, albeit gently and with respect for the white pages.

The book sat on the table, a tone of daring calling from behind the thick brown cover like a siren trying to lull in sailors at sea.  In an almost imperceptible voice, it beckoned to Miranda.  C’mon.  Gimme a read.  You know you want to.  Just give in.  You don’t really think you’re going to be able to wait it out, do you?  Succumb to the temptation Miranda!

As much as she wanted to dive into her newest purchase, she knew she would have to wait.  She had endured a long day at the office and her brain was done for the night.  Miranda knew herself well enough to play out what would happen if she tried to start any reading.  She would wake hours later with a string of drool right down the middle of the page.  Her book’s new binding would ha be stressed from the weight of her head pressing against it.  Once was enough to teach her a lesson.  She had all of Meltzer’s books.  She had devoured The Inner Circle and had waited impatiently for the years to pass until this new book was available.  Miranda could wait another twelve hours to learn all about The Fifth Assassin.

She turned the lights in her house off one by one.  A quiet and still mood encompassed Miranda’s home and she was lulled into a quiet sleep as she thought about how unfortunate the title of the book was.  Any book with the word “assassin” in the title was bound to attract attention.  Resting her head on her pillow and closing her eyes, she could see picture various scenes playing out.

On the bus there were plenty of strangers that plucked nonsensical conversations out of the air at the slightest cue.  Miranda half-dreamt of crazed people accusing her of being pro-gun because she was reading such a book and imagined some sort of anti-N.R.A. person feeding her their views and opinions.  Instead of being allowed to read her enjoyable selection of fiction, Miranda would be forced to politely nod and “mm-hmm” along.

Public Domain due to age from WikiCommons

Public Domain due to age from WikiCommons

Then there were the conspiracy nuts.  A book with a picture of Washington, D.C., the American Flag, and that loaded word, could only add to up something lunatics would cling to fervently.  She could practically smell the wackos with their drug-addled minds telling her “the real truth, the truth they don’t want you to know” about the Kennedy assassination.  No, Miranda decided as she fluffed her pillow and pushed such awkward social interactions from her mind.  It really was better to keep the cover of her book under wraps.  After all, it had worked quite well in masking her embarrassment when she had read Fifty Shades of Grey.

The next morning arrived and brought with it an increased anticipation.  Miranda weighed the pros and cons of calling in sick for work.  Realistically, there was no earthly reason she could give that would delay the presentation that she had to give that day.  She had spent the last two weeks working late in order to prepare the ideal approach to win over the board of directors.  Yet her love for books was doing its best to push her work obligations out of her mind.  The battle of pleasure over responsibility was a short one, and Miranda regrettably slipped out of her comfortable pajamas and into pantyhose and tight shoes.

Her bus was still a good ten minutes away.  That gave Miranda five minutes to get to the bus and a five minute buffer zone for herself.  Miranda pondered at the possibilities.  She had long ago learned that writing your name on the cover of a book was just as inviting to random commuters as any provocative book title.  She didn’t want to meet anyone, she just wanted to read.  (Well, within reason.  If the guy was really cute, Miranda wasn’t going to complain.)  Still, the brown surface needed something.  Her habit was to leave the paper unadorned.  This time she just couldn’t bring herself to leave the thing alone.  How could she decorate it and still maintain some anonymity?

Looking once more to the clock on the wall, Miranda saw that her five minutes of leisure were quickly fading away.  If she was going to act, she would have to do so immediately.  Her mind still wasn’t made up.  She looked to the scraps of paper in the recycling bin.  And that’s when she saw it.

Crawling across the floor was, without a doubt, the largest spider that Miranda had ever seen in her life.  She stared at it in horror.  The body resembled some sort of grotesque Ding Dong and the legs were like flexi-straws that had been caked in brownish-gray mold.  The creature was some sort of freakish mutant love-child of a daddy longlegs and a tarantula.  She did her best to stifle her instinct to scream, but the beast was skittering along the tile floor.  Worse yet, it was making a beeline for her legs.

Acting purely on adrenaline, Miranda grabbed the closest thing to her.  The book felt heavy in her grasp and she clasped it firmly between her two hands.  Bending her knees ever so slowly, she looked the spider in what she guessed were its eyes.  She squinted; her two neatly groomed eyebrows reached towards each other to form a menacing V-shape.  Glaring at the spider, she gave it one last chance to crawl off into some dark corner in retreat.  The spider did not relent.

“Grraaaah!!!”  Miranda screamed angrily as she shifted both her hands to the back of the book and slammed it down on the floor with all her might.  Sure enough, she had hit the target dead-on.  The spider, no match for the weighty literary skill of Meltzer’s writing, was now a splatter on the homemade book cover.  The kitchen floor somehow survived relatively splatter-free.

Miranda reached for a paper towel and did her best to remove the bug’s guts, limbs, and other bodily stains from the cover.  She felt as though the germs and bits of carcass were no longer a threat.  Also, her worries about her book coming across as plain and uninteresting were over.  She checked her book over as she scurried out the door.  Happily, she found that the binding and the corners of her new hardcover were still in excellent condition.  She laughed as she thought about her high-tech friends’ and their reading methods. 

Let’s see an eReader take out a monster like that and not shatter their precious screen, Miranda thought to herself triumphantly.

A Single Gesture

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

A Single Gesture

The Impartial Friend: Death, the only immortal who treats us all alike, whose pity and whose peace and whose refuge are for all–the soiled and the pure, the rich and the poor, the loved and the unloved.” -Mark Twain

Early in the morning, as the moon floated overhead and had its personal space intruded upon by loose clusters of wispy clouds, Scott saw his bus approach.  Every once in a while, Scott would burst out of his home, scurry to fit his keys to the lock, and then run for the door.  More often than not, this resulted in Scott arriving for the bus five minutes early, so he had recently adopted a different policy.  He would take his time and hope that the bus was not going to be too early.

The usual boarding routine was observed.  Scott stood back and let the somber man enter first.  Always carrying an overstuffed backpack, the somber man also carried a temperament that was determined to overcompensate for the compact man’s lack of height.  Scott had decided long ago that if getting a seat first was that important to the serious commuter, he could go ahead and have first rights.  Scott only wanted a quiet spot with a reasonable amount of elbow room.

Entering the bus, Scott greeted the usual driver with his standard greeting of, “Morning”.  She replied in kind as she reached for the long handle and pulled the double doors of her bus shut.  Scott put his loose and ratty backpack on his lap and did his best to encourage his sleepy frame to sit up straight.  The bench seats were built at a stern angle, but Scott’s back often answered the call of the slouch.  For the first few miles at least, Scott tried to adopt something resembling correct posture.  If nothing else he felt he should be in top form when he passed that one intersection.

Scott wanted to close his eyes and begin his quiet time of thinking things out and mentally preparing his day.  Yet he knew that the park and ride stop was still to come; followed closely by that certain intersection.  Scott’s peace would have been short lived anyway, for the park and ride group were numerous, and therefore a bit disruptive to the environment of stillness that often accompanied the moving vehicle.

Seven people mumbled greetings to the bus driver and swiped their cards or crammed their grimy bills into the pay-box.  The woman once again reached for her hefty door handle.  She gave one last look across the dimly lit parking lot.  She had been on the route for a while and knew what to expect.  Sure enough, as if responding to her greatest fear, a large woman came huffing and bustling towards the vehicle.  Her clothes and her bags leapt and jostled about as she did her best to arrive before the bus’s departure.  She almost fell as she threw herself in the door and tried to climb up the two steps.  The handrails congratulated each other on an excellent job helping out this Jane Doe in her time of need.  The driver greeted the woman with a simple, “Good morning”.  The large woman, still gasping, expressed her thanks for the professional person’s patience.

Watching the woman stomp down the aisle, Scott noted the presence of her items.  Everyone on the bus seemed to have their own way of packing for the day.  Some folks carried two, if not three carriers with them every day.  Scott did his best to keep his load light; sometimes transporting nothing more than what would fit in his pockets.  Middle-aged workers had swapped out simple satchels for backpacks with wheels.  Scott made mental judgments on those items based on his mood.  There were days when he shook his head in sadness, and others where he only wondered what had happened to the world so that backpacks needed to have their own wheels.  And of course, there were the phone addicts.  A large portion of the commuters didn’t put down their phone the entire trip.  Very rarely was there a phone call this early in the morning.  If there was, the rider could be assured that several heads would glare in that person’s direction.  Many times the phones were used to check e-mails or websites before work, but before sunup it tended to be the music-listening option that was most popular.  Scott had never been one for phones.  He figured if he was allowed to let his brain relax while he went to work, he would take the opportunity.  There was enough overstimulation in his life already.  He preferred to relax.  That calm time would have to wait a moment though, for they were passing the intersection.

Scott looked at a certain spot on the road, put his fingers to his forehead, saluted, and then very quietly said, “God speed, darlin’.  God speed.”  The bus wouldn’t stop unless the light demanded it, which was rare.  Scott watched the spot at the intersection pass by his window, and then he closed his eyes and went about his day.

There were people that wondered what Scott was doing.  They questioned his gesture and they felt uneasy at his waving when there was no one visible outside.  One or two folks slid to a seat further away.  Scott largely ignored them.  He had his reasons and that was enough for him.

Several years ago, the quiet bus stop had been a hubbub of noise and activity.  The city in all its wisdom had decided to spend a year and a half redoing the roads.  The lanes became a little wider, and the trees and grass that had been growing quite well had been ripped out and replaced with new grass and new trees.  Scott didn’t really see the point to it all, but he had long ago accepted the wisdom of the phrase, “And it came to pass”.  He let the construction companies toil away, using his tax dollars for a project that someone had thought was necessary.  Scott assumed that life would return to normal.  Except for one person, that hadn’t been true.

It had been a typical weekday.  A non-descript worker, someone Scott had never met, rode the early afternoon bus.  She probably liked getting home a little before the rest of her family.  The woman might have enjoyed avoiding rush hour traffic and having a bit of “me” time to run errands or straighten up her household.  Scott would never know.

What Scott was certain of were the events of that Tuesday afternoon.  Shortly after the bus had pulled away from that intersection, the woman had crossed.  She answered the summons of the white-light man who benignly assured her that all was well.  The woman stepped into the street and walked through the intersection.  Scant seconds after she had entered, a truck joined her.  The several-ton construction truck had turned right on a red light, which would have been entirely legal had there not been a small group of pedestrians in his way.

The collision occurred the only way it could.  The truck and all its mass came crashing into the people.  A short time later several victims would be admitted to the hospital, but one person would never be fully discharged.  There would be no front door to her house, no sliding doors at a hospital for her to limp across; the last doors that the woman would ever walk through were those double doors on the bus.

Scott felt that someone should remember such things.  There was a memorial stone on the side of the road after all.  The city had realized the tragedy of the event once upon a time, even if they had forgotten about it now.  Certainly the woman’s family hadn’t forgotten.  Scott felt that he could use the reminder to himself.  When he was driving, it served as constant prodding to always follow the rules, especially where traffic lights were concerned.  For the times when he was a pedestrian or a bus rider, Scott tried to remember that one never knows what comes next.

People could stare, people could whisper, but Scott didn’t listen.  He closed his eyes as the intersection faded away into the distance.  He had paid his daily tribute, and he didn’t need the approval of other people to tell him it was the right thing to do.  He simply knew that it was.  With that, as it did each morning, life went on as best as it could.

The Poetry of a Crowded Bus

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Poetry of a Crowded Bus

Trying to maintain order during a legalized gang brawl involving 80 toughs with a little whistle, a hanky and a ton of prayer.”  ~Anonymous referee, explaining his job

Harry never considered himself a big sports nut,
He lacked the passion for competition in his gut.
He didn’t own jerseys with a number or a name
Nor did he know any members in the hall of fame.

Not a football buff, Harry was a regular guy.
He focused on his night job to help hours pass by.
When his shift was over, Harry headed for his home
He yearned for his soft pillow to meet his drowsy dome.

Yet he found an obstacle between him and his bed,
Had he known earlier, it would have filled him with dread.
A quiet, empty bus was a key part of his plans,
Instead he found one crammed full of excited sports fans.

Had he remembered the news, he’d known what to expect
But now he found that the hope of a calm ride was wrecked.
The seats had all been taken about four blocks before,
So Harry knew he’d be standing still on the bus-floor.

The driver declared that she’d skip the last stop downtown
However someone wanted off, which just made her frown.
Somehow everyone fit, though they were rather sour.
Waiting was no option; the next bus was in an hour.

Harry stood exhausted as his arms grew quite weary.
His knees started to hurt, and he was feeling dreary.
With each stop that let folks off to walk to their houses
There arose a hassle for the commuting louses.

Take the person who stood stuck at the back of the bus
Who couldn’t maneuver through and so started to cuss.
The people had no room to get one past another,
Frightened children stood terrified next to their mother.

Harry was just too tired to look around and see,
If he was standing next to a suit or hillbilly.
He certainly wished they would stop cheering in delight,
After all, the hour was quick approaching midnight.

It had been a hot day, and everyone had that smell
That comes when one’s deodorant stops working so well.
There was the well-known stench of burped-up stadium beer,
Which helped explain why some guys were so eager to cheer.

Finally it happened, as the riders knew it would,
The driver came to a light, stopped as fast as she could.
The brakes were applied, the crammed riders all held on tight,
Clearly the bus was too big to slow down for the light.

The quick jolt sent the bus-full of them bouncing about,
Naturally large groups of people started to shout.
The crowds reached for the handholds, they all gave it their best;
Still Harry fell backwards as someone fell on his chest.

Harry fought to stand up, although it took him a while,
Then he found himself greeted by a delightful smile.
“Sorry about that”, the woman said softly to Harry.
“Thanks for catching me; that was a little bit scary.”

They laughed at the situation, their faces started to happily beam,
Thus the non-fan met the head of the cheerleading team.
Harry surprised himself by stating his thought out loud,
“There are advantages to being stuck in a crowd.”

A Decidely Uncommon Commute

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

A Decidedly Uncommon Commute

It was like lying in a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hand of man.” -Theodore Roosevelt on camping in Yosemite National Park

There are things that I do not understand.  Key among them is how the folks on my bus can pass on a free pick-me-up.  People will pay something like twenty dollars to go to the top of the Space Needle.  But put them on a bus and they completely zone out on what they could see for free.

All is quiet.  The last few days of sporadic rain have been swept away.  The sky is filled with the morning hues of light blue and only the perimeters of the sky are touched with clouds.  Like the morning fog that is beginning to fade away, the clouds will soon be a thing of yesterday.  There is a touch of pink in the sky, but the morning doesn’t brag.  The scenery remains confident that those who are looking will appreciate the day without any fanfare or dramatic touches.

Then one comes to Lake Washington.  As the bus drives across a skinny metal and concrete construct, nature shows us how it’s done.  On the right, my fellow commuters and I are granted a brief glimpse of the Olympic Mountains.  Always covered in snow, always majestic; it is a nice “hello” as we make our way downtown.  Then it happens.

It gets me every time.  We drive over a clear blue lake.  The city and the universities do their best to clutter up the skyline; they can only succeed so much.  There is not stopping the Cascade Mountains.  They fill the left side of the freeway.  For a solid fifteen seconds, there is no escaping them.  One hopes for a quick view of the larger mountains on the edge.  Rainier is the diva of the show.  It knows how great it looks and only appears in its full splendor when conditions are perfect.

Even without its headliner, the Cascade Range is jaw-dropping.  It rises and falls with peaks and valleys that any roller coaster would be envious of.  It looks down kindly on Lake Washington beneath it.  Every morning that I am on this first bus of the day, I take in the mountains and hear them calling to me.  I tell them I can’t skip work, I’m “needed” in civilization.

That is usually about the time that I look around at the people riding this bus with me.  They should be enjoying this view; they aren’t.  They sit there staring at their phones.  Whatever has been posted on their e-mail’s newsgroup is more important.  They just have to read that one more page in their fashion magazine.  Spread out before them is a view more spectacular than anything they will see for the rest of the day, let alone in any magazine.  They would pay for a print of this backdrop.  Yet in real life, they ignore it.

I like to think that this story will change.  I dare to hope that all the characters in this story undergo a dramatic shift in their attitudes and wake up to all this wonder around them.  It is only ten-fifteen seconds; surely they have that much time.  For now, the story is still being written and the supporting characters confound me.  Of course, maybe the thing that they don’t understand is how I can possibly ignore my phone for an entire bus ride.


Proceeding Logically

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Proceeding Logically

Logic is a poor guide compared with custom.” –Winston Churchill

Ray was frustrated with the world.  As a logic professor, he hoped that the world would take notice of what was happening around them and move forward with wisdom.  More and more, he found that was not the case.  Yesterday had been a perfect example of what frustrated him about the world.

ImageHe had boarded a downtown bus to get to his school.  The bus, equipped with bright yellow letters just above the front windows, clearly displayed for all to see, “Downtown”.  Of course, it was the first person in the line of fourteen people that was confused.  “Does this bus go downtown?”  Ray had rolled his eyes at the inquiry but decided that he should settle upon his morning routine.  As the bus began to pull away from the stop, a woman started approaching the bus… from the other side of the street. 

This woman, lumbering and determined, plowed her way across two lanes of traffic going west, then she had continued through the turn lane without pause.  As the bus driver was about to pull forward, the woman walked through eastbound lanes and right up to the driver’s window.  The driver poked her head out the window and tried to ask the woman what she was doing.  The woman, undeterred by petty obstacles like a sixteen-ton bus, walked in front of the bus, onto the sidewalk, and continued with her mission.  Ray snorted out his nostril and turned to his crossword puzzle.  At least in this trivial black and white grid he could find order and clarity of thought.

The rest of the commute had been more or less reasonable.  Granted, there were the cars that dove across two lanes of traffic to pass one single car.  There were the drivers that forced their way into the busiest lane only to pull out just before it exited.  And naturally, there was the line of cars that wouldn’t let the bus into a lane even though the flashing lights were adorned with the sign, “Yield to bus”.  These drivers were something Ray was used to.  In some instances they had displayed a lack of logic, but many of them were simply rude.

Then the bus had pulled off the freeway and arrived downtown.  Ray folded up his paper, checked his watch, and prepared for something resembling normalcy to begin.  Of course, that was when he had seen them.

The bus had the right of way.  Green lights indicated that this massive vehicle speeding down the road with plenty of momentum to do some damage was clearly in the right.  There was no logical reason to believe that one was entitled to walk in front of the bus.  Still, there they had been, clear as day; a couple walked against the light, right in front of the bus.  To make matters worse, they were pushing a stroller. 

The driver did not want vehicular manslaughter on his record and so had slammed on the brakes.  Fifty or so bus riders braced themselves, some more successfully than others, as the force of the bus launched them forward in their seats.  Forty-eight people grumbled and panicked, cursed and glared at the foolish pedestrian couple.  (Ray noticed that the only two not upset by the whole incident were a young male and a young female.  Ray had previously seen the two shyly glance at each other every now and then, and the commuters seemed rather pleased that the sudden stop had sent her careening backwards into him.)  The pedestrians, assuming that all was well, didn’t give the bus a second thought as they pushed their stroller up onto the curb.

Those events would have been enough for Ray, but on the way home, there had been another incident which had only added to his frustration.  He had been walking to the bus stop after a long day of trying to instruct students.  One of them had actually asked, “Professor, can the after occur before the before, or does before always happen before the after?”  Ray had made a mental note to buy more aspirin.  He wanted to go home and watch an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, where he knew the fool would always get their comeuppance in the end.  Then the town car had come down the street towards him.

The vehicle would not have normally been a concern for Ray.  He, as logic dictated he should be, was on the sidewalk; the car was on the road.  However the road was a one-way and the town car was decidedly not going that one way.  Rush hour was approaching and Ray could see two columns of cars barreling straight towards the town car.  The town car stopped right beneath an overpass.  It backed up and Ray had heard its bumper collide with the concrete pillar.  Then it had pulled forward, only to back up again. 

At that point, the car had been perpendicular not only to the road, but to the dozens of cars that were coming.  The car pulled forward and the line of cars slowed to a stop.  Astonishingly, not a single driver honked.  Ray had chosen to believe that the town car driver knew how stupid he had been, that the drivers had known how stupid he was, and that no one needed to further accentuate the point with blaring noises.  After more maneuvering, the town car was eventually freed and it sped down the road, the “do not enter” sign going by in his rear view mirror.

Ray looked in his own mirror at home and hoped that today would be better.  He wanted people to pay attention.  He wanted folks to proceed in a manner that would produce positive results.  Truth be told, he wanted to quit his job at the local college and work at an online university so he would never have to face the real world again.  However, as Ray put a green glob on his toothbrush, he knew the world would never act in a way that would always get things right.  There would always be some moron that messed the whole thing up.  Those were the notions that were going through Ray’s mind as he started to brush his teeth.  Seconds later, he spat out what had been in his mouth as he realized what he had done. 

A truly intelligent person would never have put shaving cream on their toothbrush, he thought to himself, mortified.

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